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Preview: Warriors host Nuggets in showdown for West’s top playoff seed

Andre Iguodala listed as “questionable” for Golden State, Denver PG Jamal Murray is likely to play despite ankle

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NBA: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets

Since the Golden State Warriors have taken two of the three regular season matchups with the Denver Nuggets, all the Warriors need in order to essentially lock up the top position in the West is another win against Denver. Because we hold the tie-breaker, a win tonight over the Nuggets would essentially end the race and cement the top of the Western Conference playoff bracket.

After this matchup, there will just be a handful of games left in the regular season. Ideally, the Warriors will be able to lock themselves into first place with a win tonight. They’re probably going to take some strategic rest / “load management” regardless during the two remaining back-to-backs; but since they’ve been talking about top seeding in the playoffs as a priority since the opening of training camp you can be sure that the Warriors do indeed care about coming out of Oracle tonight with a win.

Game Details

WHO: Golden State Warriors (52-24) vs. Denver Nuggets (51-25)

WHEN: Tuesday, April 2; 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Oracle Arena — Oakland, CA

WATCH: NBCSBA Plus, TNT

RADIO: 95.7 The Game

Blog Buddy: Denver Stiffs

The Warriors are coming together right when it matters most

Whether it be the new pass-first version of Kevin Durant, the return of Andrew Bogut or the unifying stupidity of the NBA ‘hot stove’ defense of bad referees, the Warriors are peaking right now. Though still not especially consistent, Golden State has been laying the hammer down on their opponents recently.

From NBA.com’s most recent Power Rankings — check out what the five All-Star lineup has been up to since the break. Keep in mind, these numbers include some stinkers and lazy games:

...their five-star lineup has played in three straight games together and has allowed just 98.0 points per 100 possessions in 115 minutes since the All-Star break, making it the best defensive lineup among the 23 that have played at least 100 post-break minutes.

That lineup also manages to put up an offensive rating of 108.9 during that time span — good enough for tenth best. After some initial hiccups, it looks exactly as fearsome as everyone hoped/feared. A lineup capable of running over the opposition in the playoffs is one thing that the Warriors have always had, but if there was a concern (beyond lack of focus) it was all about the defensive side of the ball.

Pass-first KD

As an artist, sometimes the biggest renaissance can be internal. A minor epiphany, a slight shift in your internal dynamics, and all the sudden everything looks different and makes more sense.
Kevin Durant is one of the preeminent basketball artists alive today, and he has gone through something recently that has him playing in a way we haven’t seen before — at least not in this much of an extended fashion. As Anthony Slater writes for The Athletic, while this version of Durant isn’t likely to be who we see most frequently, he sure has been effective:

In his last two home games, Durant has 20 assists and only 11 shot attempts (making 10) in 62 combined minutes.

The passivity has opened up great looks for the other very capable stars and the efficiency is incredible — Durant has had 5-of-5, 5-of-6 and 12-of-13 shooting nights the past week

Over those three games, Durant has been a league-best plus 78 while on court. Already one of the very best in the game, this new wrinkle is exactly the sort of expansion to his game that Durant desired in his move here.

Injury updates and load management

Both teams should be at some semblance of full strength. But as we should expect this deep into the season, there are some roster issues for both sides.

On Denver’s side, point guard Jamal Murray tweaked his ankle on Sunday. It was mild enough for him to return to the game for a bit, and after two days of rest, it seems that common thought is pointing towards his availability tonight.

Nuggets need this one for a few reasons

For a team as high up in the standings as they are, you’ve got to always put any criticism of this team within the context of their overall performance. Still, The Nuggets lost three of their last four games and haven’t scored more than 100 points in four of their last five.

This game is extremely important for the standings, but also for the collective soul of the Denver Nuggets. I’m not sure how much of a factor momentum really is in professional sports, but the Warriors have really dominated the Nuggets recently. Tonight’s game will go a long way towards determining if the Nuggets wobble their way into the playoffs on shaky legs, or stride into it, fighting till the end.

Predictions

Andrew Bogut will be a factor.
Here he is talking about the pivotal role the Nuggets franchise played in the Warriors’ emergence as an NBA powerhouse.

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